Fifty high school students were married in a mass ceremony in the Iranian city of Parsian, according to local news reports. But city officials have been downplaying the event and distancing themselves from the idea of encouraging child marriage.
The “celebration” was first mentioned by the chairperson of the Wedding Committee in Parsian’s Women’s Affair Department. Azar Khosravani said the event was aimed at “facilitating marriage according to Iranian and Islamic norms and culture,” according to the Vaghaye daily.
An employee of Parsian’s education department claimed to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran that the event was only a gathering of married students and the department had no involvement in organizing it.
But education officials who support the practice of marriage at a young age had attended the ceremony held at the governor’s office in late February.
The official, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted to the Campaign that marriage among high school students was a “serious problem” throughout Hormozgan province located in southern Iran.
News of the mass marriage ceremony raised concerns that local officials were directly or indirectly promoting child marriage. But Khosravani claimed the students had already been married in an interview with Iran’s official state-controlled news channel.
“Fifty married students from girls’ schools, along with their families, attended the ceremony. Some officials, such as the Friday Prayer leader of Parsian as well as the town governor gave speeches and presents were given to the married students. Some philanthropists and supporters of making marriages easier were also there,” she told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Parsian’s Friday Prayer leader, Hojatoleslam Hadi Mirzaie, has been unabashedly supportive of what he calls the “Islamic lifestyle.”
“The culture of easy marriage should grow and spread within society and young people and their families should lower their demands to allow this divine religious matter to blossom,” he said.
According to official Iranian statistics, tens of thousands of girls under the age of 15 are married off by their families each year.
Reporting on the high number of child marriages in Hormozgan, the Qanoon news site published official statistics showing that there were five marriages of girls under the age of 10, and 530 under the age of 14, in the province during the Iranian year ending March 21, 2011.
The acting head of Parsian’s education department, Mahmoud Ravan, told the local ANA news agency on March 1 that the ceremony at the governor’s office was not officially sanctioned by the department but was organized for students who were “either married or engaged” to inform them about the benefits of easy marriage.
“Most of the married students in our district are in high school or junior high school, and sometimes in elementary school. Having these married students studying next to unmarried students has caused some problems,” said Ravan.
The United Nations has categorized child marriage as a human rights violation. Civil and children’s rights activists in Iran have opposed religious conservatives who advocate child marriage.
A top official from the government of President Hassan Rouhani, who promised to improve human rights during his 2013 presidential campaign, has requested an investigation into the report.
“In the past couple of years we have received worrying reports about girls getting married before the legal age, even some under the age of 10,” said Shahindokht Molaverdi, vice president in charge of Women and Family Affairs, on February 29.
“We have requested the Ministry of Justice to present a report to the vice president’s office about girls having early and illegal underage marriages. This matter has been referred to the National Center for Children’s Rights for investigation,” she said.
Experts say the Iranian government’s marriage statistics are imprecise because underage couples who do not register their union cannot be tracked and counted.
Attorney Shima Ghoosheh previously told the Campaign that many families avoid the civil registry office and only have religious marriage ceremonies that do not require official registration, or register the marriages illegally.
Ghoosheh added that the official marriage age for girls in Iran is 13 because the government considers them to be sexually and mentally mature.
“Thirteen-year-old girls can legally get married. But even if a girl is under 13, her father can ask a judge’s permission for her to marry,” she told the Campaign in an interview.
Sharvand newspaper reported updated government statistics on child marriage on August 18, 2015: “The National Organization for Civil Registration statistics show that in the past year, 40,404 girls under the age of 15 and 32,587 boys under the age of 20 have registered their marriages. According to the most recent statistics of the National Organization for Civil Registration, 419,488 girls under the age of 15 and 484,885 boys under the age of 20 got married between 2004 and 2014.”
Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran, reported in 2014 that “at least 48,580 girls between 10 and 14 years of age were married in 2011, 48,567 of whom were reported to have had at least one child before they reached 15 years of age.”
“Some 40,635 marriages of girls under 15 years of age were also registered between March 2012 and March 2013, of which more than 8,000 involved men who were at least 10 years older. Furthermore, at least 1,537 marriages of girls under 10 years of age were registered in 2012, which is a significant increase compared with the 716 registered between March 2010 and March 2011,” said Shaheed in his report to the UN.